For this weeks one to watch we've got a bout that we don't expect will be a war, but it is one we expect will be a compelling chess match. Both men are very talented but negative, and focus more on fighting at range than we typically see in Japan, which can be quite jarring at times. Despite that the bout should be a hotly contested one and a very, very interesting one, even if the pace isn't what we typically see in Japan. The bout will also serve as the headline for the upcoming A-Sign show.
The One to Watch?
Reiya Abe (19-3-1, 9) vs Ren Sasaki (10-0, 6)
October 12th (Tuesday)
Here we get the chance to see a brilliant talented, though often over-looked, Japanese Featherweight taking on an unbeaten hopeful looking to prove what he can do. We have two talented fighters up against each other in what both will view as a must win bout. Although the bout is set to be shown for free on A-Sign boxing, so there's really no excuse to miss this one which has the ingredients of a technically enticing chess match.
World ranked Featherweight Reiya Abe is one of the many talented Japanese fighters at 126lbs that doesn't get much attention. Dubbed a "Genius" Abe is a brilliant boxer, with a fantastic boxing mind, fantastic counter punching and great control of range. Sadly for all his talent and ring craft he does lack killer instinct and the extra gear needed to reach the top level of the sport. In terms of skills there are few that can compare to him in Japan, but there are fighters who have shown more will, and that's the one thing he has been lacking at times.
Notably 2019 was a bad year for Abe, in which he went 1-1-1, and hopefully the set backs to Taiki Minamoto, who he drew with, and Ryo Sagawa, who he lost to, will help him add some fire to his boxing. If he can increase his output, use his jab more, and show more killer instinct in the ring there's no reason why he can't go much, much further in the sport, especially given he has really under-rated power in his left hand.
The unbeaten Ren Sasaki has been quietly making a name for himself but yet to really break through. His most notable performances came in 2017, when he won the All Japan Rookie of the Year but sadly since then he has failed to make much of a name for himself. That's despite wins over Kanehiro Nakagawa, Ge An Ma and Morihisa Iju. In fact last year he won the Knock Out Dynamite Tournament, though did so by default after Yuki Yamauchi was forced to pull out of the final before the bout took place.
In the ring Sasaki is a cagey fighter who looks to create distance, box off his jab and keep opponents at range. It's only really when he has someone hurt that he opens up, and when's done that in the past he has been clipped, with Ge An Ma wobbling him last year. Technically he is solid but as with Abe there is a feeling that he simply doesn't do enough at times, and as a result he has had some very close decision.
What to expect?
The first few rounds we expect to see both men cancelling each other out really well. Both are, at heart, counter punchers and neither enjoy leading off. Sadly this could make the bout feel like it's very slow to get going. Thankfully though we expect to see Abe take the advantage in these slow, almost tedious rounds, and force Sasaki to become more aggressive.
If Sasaki is forced to let his hands go more, chasing the fight, we see that playing right into Abe's game plan and giving the talented Abe counter opportunities. When that happens expect to see him draw leads from Sasaki, and counter them with thunder bolt left hands.
If Sasaki doesn't fall behind early on, and isn't forced to chase things, expect a very, very high level chess match. It might not be the most exciting or the most thrilling action war, but it will be very interesting and a bout fought with very high level skills on show by both men.
The bad news?
Not everyone likes a chess match, and this could end up being a stinker if both men feel they are in control. The styles of the two men are pretty similar, and both are rather risk-averse. This could be a very, very interesting bout, but could, just as easily, end up being horrific to watch.
Having spent the last couple of days looking at the Featherweight division, and more precisely its champions and contenders, we now get on to some of the prospects in the division, which are a real mixed bag with many of them having had inactivity plague their careers so far.
If you missed the previous articles on the division they are available here:
The state of the Division - Featherweight - The Champions
The state of the Division - Featherweight - The Contenders
Ryo Sagawa (6-1, 4)
Arguably the most improved fighter in 2018 is Ryo Sagawa, who began the year 2-1 (2) and went on to score 4 good wins, over opponents with a combined 61-10-2, during the year. He was a former accomplished amateur who suffered a surprise loss in his second professional bout, but has bounced back well and scored notable domestic wins over Junki Sasaki, Ryo Matsumoto and Shingo Kawamura in his last 3 bouts. He's a skilled boxer-puncher who has shown real improvements since his loss and now looks like being one of the big rising stars of the Featherweight division. A real one to watch in 2019, a year that he's stated he'll be looking to fight for titles in.
Jordan Gill (22-0, 6)
With 22 fights to his name 24 year old Englishman should perhaps be a bit further along with his career than he is, however "the Thrill" hasn't been the most active in recent years with only a single fight in 2016 and just 2 fights in 2017 so has struggled to build momentum. The Englishman is a light puncher, but a talented one and scored good wins in 2018 against the likes of Jason Cunningham and Ryan Doyle. Hopefully he continues to be busy in 2019 and move his way on to the European title picture. Unfortunately, Europe is packed with very good Featherweights and it could be tough for Gill to impress at the level at the moment.
Hinata Maruta (8-1-1, 7)
The very highly regarded Hinata Maruta made his debut in 2015 and was destined for greatness. Sadly his journey hasn't been smooth sailing, as anticipated, with a loss to Hidenori Otake in late 2017 and an unfortunately draw with Ben Mananquil earlier this year. Despite those set backs we have seen touches of genius from Murata who now looks to be fighting at his best weight, and his recent TKO win over Tsuyoshi Tameda was as impressive as anything else he's done since turning professional. If Maruta can get it all together and perform to his best then his ceiling is incredibly high, but the boxer-puncher really needs everything to click sooner rather than later so he can build some momentum and move into title contention.
Joet Gonzalez (21-0, 12)
At 25 years old Joet Gonzalez is similar in some ways to the aforementioned Jordan Gill, in that we would typically expect a guy in his mid 20's with over 20 fights to really have progressed beyond being a prospect. He had a good 2018, with wins over Rafael Rivera and Rolando Magbanua, to go along with a solid 2017 win over Deivi Julio Bassa, but we're still waiting for a big break out from him, and we suspect that's what we'll see from him in 2019 as he looks to move from prospect to contender.
Hector Luis Garcia (10-0-0-1, 8)
Dominicant Puncher Hector Luis Garcia is a 27 year old who debuted in late 2016 and has quickly raced out to 10-0. He's heavy-handed has already won a regional title and now heads into 2019 with some momentum. Given his advanced age we're expecting to see Garcia matched with better regional talent in 2019 and could potentially find himself in the world rankings by the end of the year, if he can do that then maybe he'll be given more exposure. Whilst he's not a bit name he was a notable amateur, competing at the 2016 Olympics and being a 3-time silver medal winner in regional competitions, losing to top Cubans in his final bouts
Tremaine Williams (15-0, 5)
Unbeaten American Tramaine Williams, aka "The Might Midget" is a 26 year old who has long been tipped as a future world champion, following a solid amateur career. Sadly for all the expectations on his shoulders he's yet to really show what he can do, and he's already been a professional for well over 6 years. Sadly his career has been slowed by serious bouts of inactivity, with no fights in 2014 or 2016, and only 1 fight in 2018. Despite the inactivity he has beaten the likes of Christopher Martin, German Meraz and William Gonzalez, showing that he has been able to perform well against good competition. He's promising but certainly needs to "get on with it" so to speak.
Dave Penalosa (14-0, 10)
Hard hitting Filipino Dave Penalosa carries one of the biggest names in Filipino boxing, with his father, uncles, grandfather and brother all being notable fighters. He, like several others on this list, has been a really frustrating fighter. He's been a professional since 2011, but failed to fight in 2015 and 2017, essentially losing more 24 months of his career. If he can remain active, build on a couple of wins in 2018 he could become a contender by the end of 2019, especially given his surname, strong backing from ESPN5 in the Philippines and an exciting style. He will however need to be kept busy and be given the match ups to build on, rather than have any more time away from the ring.
Michael Conlan (10-0, 6)
Northern Irishman Michael Conlan is a very highly regarded prospect in the division and was a standout amateur, winning the 2015 World Amateur Championships with a victory over Murodjon Akhmadaliev as well as competing at the 2012 and 2016 Olympics. We feel he hasn't quite shown the same skills in the professional ranks as he did in the amateurs, but with Top Rank behind him, along with a huge Irish support and so much amateur experience it's hard to see imagine any but success for Conlan, who is a lot more technically rounded than his brother Jamie, who was one of the most exciting fighters in recent memory. A lot of pressure is on Conlan's shoulders but we're expecting him to shine in the next year or two.
Musashi Mori (8-0, 5)
Whilst some fighters on this list have been tipped as a success since before making their professional debut, the same cannot be said of 19 year old Musashi Mori, who turned professional in 2016 without any fanfare. Mori would impress in 2017, winning the All Japan Rookie of the Year at Super Featherweight before moving down in weight earlier this year to claim the WBO Asia Pacific title from Richard Pumicpic. There are areas for Mori to work on, but he looks like a fantastic prospect with good speed, underrated power, good composure and he is improving his defense as well. A really promising and young talent as we head into the new year.
Ren Sasaki (8-0, 5)
Another Japanese fighter making it on to this list is Ren Sasaki, a 23 year old who really made his mark in 2017 when he won the Japanese Rookie of the Year last year, winning it at Featherweight whilst the aforementioned Mori won at Super Featherweight before dropping down in weight. Sasaki didn't have a mega busy 2018 but did win a B class tournament final, over-coming Kanehiro Nakagawa and has shown a lot to be excited about, though he obviously is less far along than Mori who has already claimed an international title. We expect Sasaki will look to climb up the domestic rankings n 2019 and could well be looking at a national title fight in 2020.
Takahiro Onaga is a regular contributor to Asian Boxing and will now be a featured writer in his own column where his takes his shot at various things in the boxing world.